Bad Teeth and Nationalized Health Care
Fark.com, the world’s best workplace time-waster, links to a story in the Sun about a British couple that will use a 5 million GBP lottery win to buy new teeth for themselves (among other things). A walk down a street anywhere in the UK will reveal that a stereotype has at least some truth: Brits have bad teeth.
It’s not the the British are poor–Greater London is, by per capita income, the wealthiest large area of the European Union and richer than all but a handful of American states. And it isn’t exactly that the UK has a national health insurance system: other countries have socialist or quasi-socialist medical systems and lack a reputation for bad dental health.
My theory is this: Brits grow up thinking that medicine should be “free” and don’t spend enough on dentistry because they believe that anything medical is the government’s job. Thus, they won’t pay for dental care even when they rationally should.
Contrary to what the media, liberals, and conservatives seem to believe, “free-at-point-of-service” health care is not the norm around the world. French, Germans, Japanese, Swiss, Israelis, and most Canadians deal with doctors bills and/or health insurance premiums as much or more than most Americans. The UK, indeed, has the only large truly socialist–that is, wholly integrated, entirely government owned–health care systems in the developed world. Many facilities don’t even have a way of billing people. Although everyone pays for the system via taxes, the system isn’t expensive and (cleverly, in some cases) provides pretty good primary care for a fraction of what other countries spend. (End of life care is another story.)
The National Health Service provides dental care on a limited scale but, because of rationing, non-poor people who really want to see a dentist without waiting months have to pay for it out of pocket or buy private coverage.
The same way that many parents (not unjustifiably) get angry at materials fees and other minor charges assessed by public schools, perhaps many people in the UK, in my experience, bristle at the idea of paying anything for health care. Thus, chronic underinvestment results–the UK, as a whole spends the smallest percentage of GDP on health care of any G-7 country. And, perhaps, it results in bad teeth too.